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Assessing Student Learning

  • Assessment

Last modified: February 22, 2024

Good assessment provides students with information about their learning progress and empowers them to set educational goals within your courses and beyond.

Assessment vs. Grading

Assessments are tools instructors use to gauge student learning and understanding. Not all assessments need to be graded. They can be used to guide instruction needs, as self-checks for students, and as feedback tools.

If you are grading an assessment, make sure that your grade reflects student achievement of the outcomes:

  • Consider carefully what you score & the weight of those scores
  • Ask yourself: can a student fail an assessment for reasons unrelated to your learning outcomes (like improperly formatted citations in a course not attempting to teach citation formatting)?
  • Make sure to let students know how they are doing through timely feedback. If you are providing grades during an assessment, make sure students have ample time to respond to those grades in order to improve their performance for the next assignment or setting. 

Types of Assessments

Purpose: Students demonstrate current knowledge / skills


  • Writing Sample
  • Pre-test
  • Placement Test
  • Student Interest Survey

Purpose: Check for understanding, get and give feedback.

It is a good idea to regularly collect formative feedback from your students as well as give it so that they know how they are doing and you can adjust your classes as needed. 


  • Minute Paper: You can collect written feedback from students at the end of a class session, focusing on any unanswered questions they have.
  • Muddiest Point: Students quickly jot down the most unclear or confusing aspect of a lecture, discussion, or assignment, providing valuable feedback to the instructor.

  • One-Sentence Summary: Students synthesize complex information into a single informative sentence following a specific pattern. This can be informal writing, for example you could have them write a "tweet" about a research paper, or a headline about a concept they've learned, with the audience in mind of a family member or friend. 

  • What's the Principle?: Students identify and apply relevant principles to solve problems, focusing on the application of principles in problem-solving.

  • Pro-Con Grid: Students list pros and cons related to an issue or decision, aiding in the exploration of different perspectives and enhancing critical thinking.

  • Student Generated Test Questions: Students create test questions based on course material, providing insight into what they consider important concepts and aiding in self-assessment.

  • Classroom Opinion Poll: Students respond to written polls anonymously, providing valuable data on opinions and preferences related to course material. This can be formatted as an ungraded form in Blackboard or using Google Forms. 

  • Goal Ranking and Matching: Students rank their learning goals and match them with course objectives, aiding in clarifying personal learning objectives and assessing alignment with course goals.

  • Process Analysis: Students document their approach to completing an assignment, helping identify areas of improvement in their working methods.

  • Chain Notes: Students respond to a prompt written by the instructor on a large envelope passed around the class, providing instant feedback on engagement and learning during the session.

  • Discussion: Discussing course materials or assignments can provide opportunities for students to share their perspectives, and receive immediate input from peers and instructors, aiding in ongoing learning and understanding.

See for more explanations: CATs (Classroom Assessment Techniques)

Purpose: Students demonstrate what they have learned


  • Project
  • Exam
  • Research paper
  • Post-test
  • Presentation
  • See Creative Assessments below

Creative Assessments


Exams are a common assessment tool that many of us have experienced as learners. Especially in recent years, the widespread use of exams and other traditional assessment tools has been questioned, especially by proponents of more inclusive education. 

In addition, proctored exams are required for certain degrees or certifications, but may not be the most authentic or inclusive way to provide meaningful assessment and feedback to students. It is worth considering that proctored exams put teachers and students into adversary roles. 

Consider if other options such as creative assignments listed above would be a more authentic way to assess student progress toward your learning objectives. You can be rigorous and expect more from your students without requiring exams. 

If you want to keep some or all exams, try out some of the following to engage students and minimize cheating. 

  • Ask students to explain their choices for multiple choice questions.
  • Use a mix of open-ended / essay, short answer, mixture of many question types.
  • Have students develop their own exam questions and answers. 

  • You may want to use a time limit or password, but remember that some students will need extensions. 
  • You may want to prevent back-tracking (for Blackboard exams), but remember that this can increase test anxiety. 
  • Randomize question & answer choices to prevent students from working together. 
  • Design the exam to be challenging even when open-book, and allow students to find answers on their own. 
  • Use a test bank so not all students see the same question set. 

Assessing in Blackboard

Resources on alternative grading

If you are interested in exploring alternatives to traditional grading,the Grading Conference website has links to blogs, books, webinars, and more and is an excellent place to start.